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I was recently rewatching the Hobbit movies and one thing stood out to me. From reading the various answers here, it was discussed that:

  1. The Nazgul are not undead but just wraiths (i.e. faded due to overuse of the rings)
  2. Sauron was not a true necromancer (i.e. capable of resurrecting a dead body).

According to the Hobbit movies, Galadriel says that the body of the Witch King of Angmar is buried there but if he never truly died, then whose body was there?

Also, again from the movie, there looked like there were more tombs in that cave, would this mean that the rest of the Nazgul were also supposedly buried there?

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    I would be careful about mixing book info and movie info here. Those questions you've linked are answered about the books. Your question is asking about a movie-specific concept.
    – ibid
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 8:57
  • This is an obvious movie non-sense. One could ask what lame idea was behind this, but IIRC even Jackson said he didn't know what he was doing when making this stuff.
    – Mithoron
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 19:24

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The movies seem to conceive that the Witch-King "died", and was sealed in the tomb to make sure, but then eventually escaped. He and the others were certainly known as Ringwraiths at this point, and must have had the same wraithly attributes that we later see explicitly. These wraiths were physical enough to have bodies that could appear dead and be buried, even though there was an unnatural possibility of their return. I say "died" in quotes because the movie is careful not to assert that he actually died and was resurrected, but it does depict him being in a powerless state.

In the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug there is an extra scene showing the burial of the Witch-King, with voiceover from Galadriel. What is shown there is a human body wrapped in canvas, and looped around with heavy chains. We see men throwing the body into a stone coffin, where it lands with a distinct thud, and then the heavy lid closing over. Galadriel says: "When Angmar fell, Men of the North took his body, and all that he possessed, and sealed it within the High Fells of Rhudaur. Deep within the rock they buried him, in a tomb so dark it would never come to light."

In the burial scene, the body does not seem animate, and saying "they took his body" is suggestive that it is a dead body. He is not shown struggling. But the context of the chains, and the situation of the tomb in general, makes it appear that the buriers were anxious that it stay bound. Perhaps, being unsure of the scope of their necromantic powers, the men thought it best to be safe - or wanted to avoid the corpse being stolen for some other evil purpose. Either way, the suggestion from the scene is that he was as dead as anyone could tell, at the point of burial, even if people like Galadriel maintained awareness that he was not dead beyond all possibility of return.

The other Nazgul were buried in the other tombs. When Gandalf is there with Radagast, he says that the Witch-King was "one of a number" - and we see the other tombs also broken open - "one of nine". I think we are meant to have the impression that the Nine broke out of their tombs, as opposed to being rescued by somebody else, but I don't think this is spelled out. That is based on the visual of the twisted and broken iron bars, suggestive of being done by sorcery rather than a team of orcs with ropes.

As far as squaring this with Tolkien's ideas of wraith-ness and spiritual forms in general, I think it is not too different from what is presented in the Lord of the Rings text. His other writings, including letters, drafts, etc., do give a more complete picture of what he thought was going on metaphysically - although he did not maintain a single consistent view. He also usually prefers not to give very much detail about the workings of evil, so it's hard to be really definitive about the "mechanics" of Sauron's necromancy.

Within the context of the novel, we learn something of Sauron's embodiment, and the eventual inability of both him and Saruman to maintain a physical body, as well as some Ring-lore. We see the Barrow-wights and the Morgul-knife. Eventually, we see the Witch-King perish more completely. It seems consistent with this presentation to say that:

  1. When the Witch-King and others were "killed", their bodies were as dead as you like, to all appearances. These were wraith-bodies, so a bit anomalous compared to a regular human body, but they were no longer walking around, talking, etc.
  2. Their spirits were still bound to the bodies, because of the effect of their rings. Their spirits did not pass on in the normal mortal fashion.
  3. But, they had been sufficiently "vanquished" that they could not return under their own power. Radagast in the movie doubts that a human sorcerer would be capable of making the Nazgul return, and Gandalf agrees but says that Sauron could. This is consistent with how Gandalf describes Sauron's fate as "a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape".
  4. It is sensible to put them in a deep dark tomb. We see on the Barrow-downs that even "normal" wights can manifest in dangerous ways in their burial places. Whatever the buriers understood of Nazgul capabilities, this was a prudent choice, and consistent with what we can assume of their experience of Angmar's powers in the wars.

Regarding the linked answer in Is the Necromancer capable of true resurrection?, the cited passages are about taking a wandering spirit and binding it into a new body. This is not precisely what is going on with the Nine, who still have a connection to their original bodies. Those bodies are quite anomalous in-text, but they certainly have physicality, and they are the same bodies throughout - ones which have been unnaturally transformed, and exceeded normal human limits of life.

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    Since the movies were made not only in reference to the books by Tolkien and for the readers intimately familiar with his writings but for a general audience, within the fantastic film tradition, and by a horror film buff, I think that we can quite readily assume that most viewers of a burial of a dead body looped around with heavy chains will feel reminded of all the other undead they have seen in movies or heard of in horror tales that were bound, weighted down, or pegged into the ground so they wouldn't return and that the filmmakers intended just this association.
    – user169166
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 11:16
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    Great point, thank you. I was just thinking it would have been nice to bury them behind a door that only opens to the password "Elbereth", but sadly that craft was no longer known.
    – alexg
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 13:22

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